Playground lawsuit is costing Vergennes money

VERGENNES — The city of Vergennes has spent $3,900 defending itself against a lawsuit involving its failed attempt to build a quarter-acre preschool playground next to the city’s East Street swimming pool, City Manager Mel Hawley told aldermen on Tuesday night, and will soon be on the hook for another $1,000 to $1,500.
Resident John O’Donnell filed a suit in Addison Superior Court this spring claiming that the city council should have honored the citywide vote against the project on Town Meeting Day instead of attempting to move forward with the proposed $42,000 playground.
Hawley said Vergennes has paid city attorney Jim Ouimette $3,900 so far, including a motion to dismiss O’Donnell’s case, and will pay him $1,000 to $1,500 more to respond to O’Donnell’s request for a summary judgment.  
Delays, cost over-runs and the decision of the project architect that he could no longer dedicate himself to the project because of those issues led the council to pull the plug on the playground this summer.
The council returned the state grant money that was to fund half the project, which generated opposition among neighbors and other residents.
But Hawley said O’Donnell has declined city officials’ suggestion that the lawsuit could be dropped.
“He feels the city of Vergennes is bound by this vote, and the only way the playground could be built is by having a subsequent vote,” Hawley said.
Hawley said officials continue to believe they have the right to propose reasonable improvements on city-improved property, and that the vote was misleading because of what they called poor wording on the article in question.
It did not mention the grant that would fund half the project cost. The citizen-submitted article on which voters cast ballots read:
“Should the City of Vergennes build a Toddler/Preschool park adjacent to the Sam Fishman Pool at Vergennes Memorial Park at a cost of $42,000, half of which would come from the city Water Tower Fund?”
In the meantime, Hawley said, he is concerned the case “has clouded the title” of the city’s East Street recreation property, although he hopes any possible impact will be limited to the playground site.
“I certainly think the vote was very specific,” he said. 

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